Italian Ancestors and Indian Arrowheads #AtoZChallenge

I is for Italian Ancestors and Indian Arrowheads. Ninth of twenty-six posts in the April 2020 Blogging From A to Z Challenge on the theme “Endwell: My Elementary Years”— where my genealogy journey germinated. Wish me luck!

One of the big area employers during my elementary years was the Endicott Johnson Corporation — a mass manufacturer of shoes.

EJ, as everyone called it, recruited workers from southern and Eastern Europe. This explained the large Italian and Czech populations in Endwell, N.Y. where I lived — and their closeness to their immigrant heritage, which was only one or two generations away.

I, on the other hand, was a motley mix of French, English, Irish, Welsh and Swiss on my dad’s side and German and Italian on my mom’s — all many generations back. Yet I longed for a more definitive ancestral identity to mesh with my playmates. Enter my Italian ancestors.

Four generations of Italian heritage (1956). Photo: Norman J. Charboneau

Just Italian enough

I took after my dad’s side — tall, fair with blue eyes and a mercurial Irish temper — but whenever my little neighbors or classmates rolled out their single-ethnic heritage I would chime up, “My mom is half Italian.” And just like that, I fit in.

Not only that, I had proof. Right before we moved to Endwell, our family went to Gloversville, N.Y. to visit my great grandmother Mamie (Curcio) Laurence [an anglicized version of Di Lorenzo] — and my dad snapped a picture.

Gathered on the steps of my Italian ancestors’ East Fulton St. home (shown above) are my great grandmother Mamie, my grandfather Antonio (Tony) Laurence, my mom Peg (Laurence) Charboneau along with me and my brothers — four generations of Italian-Americans all in one spot. So even if I wasn’t all Italian, I was still Italian enough to get by during my elementary years!

Indian arrowheads

Yet there was another heritage underlying our neighborhood that predated us all  — that of the Native American people who were early guardians of the land and inhabited the area before settlers arrived.

Depiction of a Susquehannock on the Smith Map (1624). The handwritten caption reads “The Susquehannocks are a giant-like people and thus attired.”  The Susquehannock people, whose original tribal name has been lost, lived along the Susquehanna River until displaced by settlers. Source: Wikimedia Commons

On my street —  just one block from the Susquehanna River — pretty much any digging with a backhoe unearthed carefully chiseled arrowheads.

These exquisite projectiles bore historic testimony to the sheer numbers of displaced Native people — like the Susquehannocks and others — who for generations had lived, planted, hunted and fished along same shores where I later lived during my elementary years.
Indian arrowheads (2006). On my street, just one block from the Susquehanna River, pretty much any digging with a backhoe unearthed carefully chiseled arrowheads — tangible traces of the rich Native culture that preceded us. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The history of these Native people was not taught at Hooper School, so we kids had to learn what we could from Mr. Hughes — one of our street’s earliest residents.

He had a chest filled with arrowheads and other artifacts — unearthed as our houses were built — and once a year he’d invite us kids in to look over the amazing collection.

Our ancestors had been immigrants. But in Mr. Hughes’s living room we learned that a rich Native culture had preceded us — leaving tangible traces for us to discover many centuries later.

Up next: J is for Jello and other culinary delights. Please stop back! 

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11 thoughts on “Italian Ancestors and Indian Arrowheads #AtoZChallenge”

  1. I had a large box of arrowheads as a child as both my grandfathers were farmers and as they plowed the fields / they picked them up. Sadly I think I only have one left.

  2. Welcome, Antoinette! How nice to have a visitor from Gloversville, my mother’s home town. I plan to write more about my Italian ancestors who lived there — so I hope you will stop back.

  3. Shoe manufacturing was big in Maine too back in the day. When I was little, my grandmother use to have shoe pieces that she would stitch together. I think she got a few pennies for every one she finished, or something like that. I use to love to help her stitch the shoes. Weekends In Maine

    1. My paternal grandmother also sewed shoes at home for the Alfred Dolge Factory Complex (later Daniel Green Slippers) in Dolgeville, N.Y. using prepared kits. That type of industrial homework seems to have been common, since your grandmother did the same in Maine.

  4. What a lovely four generation photo to have. I have some with my kids as the 4th but none with me, which is surprising as my Dad was always taking photos.
    There seems to be at least one older person in a town that knows the history. I bet it was cool to see the arrowheads, all different shapes, sizes and colours.
    Where I lived the man next door was in his late 80s to 90s and in summer he would sit on this ratty old couch on his porch. My kids would go sit with him for a spell and he’d tell them stories of the Indians that used to live there.

    1. In the days before school education was solidified in the U.S., it was common in rural communities for children to learn from the neighborhood elders. Happily, that tradition appears to have lived on in our respective neighborhoods — in my case with Mr. Hughes sharing with us the relics of a mighty Native civilization.

  5. Seeing all those arrowheads must have given you a sense of history even though it wasn’t taught in school.

    I do have some 4 generation photographs in my grandmother’s backyard.

  6. that’s so cool you were able to take a photo with all 4 generations together! I don’t think i ever got such a photo w/ my ancestors. Speaking of Italian ancestors though – we always thought my great-grandfather, Prefume, was an Italian immigrant. But his marriage license says he’s from Portugal. Talk about a surprise. His family apparently came from Italy to Portugal before the States.

    Visiting from the A to Z Challenge,
    The Joyous Living

    1. I am so thankful that my dad was a relentless photographer — ditto my maternal grandmother. And I can imagine your surprise to discover your great-great grandfather’s Portuguese heritage — although he was still Italian going further back, no?

  7. My grandparents had a small farm outside of Gloverville NY. My grandparents were first generation Italians (Sicilians) and I was the first generation to mix the ethnicities for my children.

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